Gerry sighed and gazed at the clock in his dorm room. He’d already visited the bathroom for himself and three of the professors on his client caseload. It was four o’clock in the morning, and this term paper was due by nine thirty. If he didn’t drink any water then he would only be interrupted by the needs of his clients, and he might be able to save his college career from yet another failing grade. Might. He was the first in his family to go to university—he wanted this so much. Gerry took a deep breath and tried to believe in himself, then shook out his fingers. Time to hustle.
I was smoking in dad’s garden, pacing and stamping around. There were some seeds on Dad’s kitchen table and I had sprinkled them onto the soil. I might have fainted or tripped, the doctors say. I don’t know which.
Dad’s neighbour saw me, and she got me to the hospital. They didn’t want to send me home that night, so they kept me in a bed there. I listened to the same podcast over and over. It was about wild deer living on a housing estate on the edge of London. The deer peeped in the ground floor windows while people were doing their washing up. I must have listened to it five or six times. I kept forgetting parts, because of the concussion.
Marjorie’s having dinner with a few friends on Newbury Street. They’re at a cute little sidewalk bistro with red umbrellas and lots of string lights. Marjorie’s telling about her recent stay at a wellness retreat. Bad Mood Camp, as it’s popularly known, was featured in both O Magazine and Goop. Even though the waiting list is a mile long, she finagled her way in through her chiropractor, who knows somebody who knows somebody.
Marjorie lowers her voice. “When you first arrive, you’re outfitted with a wardrobe for the week. The clothes are all incredibly comfortable. No tight waistbands. Fabrics so soft you want to rub your cheek on them. And they look pretty good on you, too.”
‘Hi Barry, it’s Tanya.’
‘Oh hi Tanya, thanks for taking my call. I know you must be busy with the pharma conference…’
‘Certainly am, Barry. We most certainly are! We’re missing your input! Anyway, what can I do for you? How’s it all going?’
‘Phrr, well it’s pretty tricky, I’m afraid. I’ve managed to pin down my daughter’s location…’
No one would ever know if Timothy the Turtle’s arrival at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church was a well-timed prank, or a tiny miracle.
Sometime between the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm at the first Friday children’s mass after Easter, he’d wandered through a maze of potted lilies on the altar. Prehistoric feet pressed into the plush carpet as he ventured out, one agonizingly long step at a time. Timothy stopped at the altar’s edge, facing the pre-pubescent, parochial-school-uniformed congregants giggling on either side of the center aisle.
The doctor fitted the silicone bracelet to my wrist on a Friday afternoon. Her silver-rimmed glasses slid down her nose as she sealed the clip with a foreign electronic device. It was new to her too, doing this, but the results were undeniable. That’s what she said.
I walked out the building unusually alert to the sound of my footsteps, to the weight of my body pressing down in my rubber-soled shoes. There were birds chittering somewhere nearby, I thought in the bushes, and I smiled in their general direction. It was the kind of pacifying smile you give to a mother whose child is playing up, one which says: It’s okay, I understand.
The oars swish through the water, each stroke taking me further away from Mum and the baby. Brown and orange leaves float on the water around the boat. The baby’s screams echo around the valley from the canal bank; she didn’t want to get in – now she does, but it’s too late. My brother bickers with Dad, rocking the rowing boat from side to side. I cling to the seat; water splashes my face.
I scream and sit bolt upright. It’s as if there’s no air in my lungs; I let out a huge sigh and take shallow, fast breaths. My heart is palpitating, and I am soaked in sweat. It’s the same dream, always without an ending.
Rose always admired the ogre’s house with its symmetrical shutters and tidy porch, swept clean even in the autumn when dry, curling leaves scuttled in the wind. Some neighbors’ porches were full of bric-a-brac, odds and ends that found no place within the house: an old, threadbare chair, a snow shovel despite a spring thaw. But the ogre’s house was immaculate, everything just so. Often, Rose stood in her dining room window staring across the street at the ogre’s house, sipping her morning coffee or clipping a final hair-roller in place before bed. Its white pillars and low railing bolstered her dreams, and Rose would sometimes wake up, her pillowcases soaked in sweat, her body aching for the serenity of that porch.
When Shaun gets home, he opens a cold one—and one for his flatmate Connor if he feels generous—then checks his updates on Instagram and Twitter. At work he hides his phone in his backpack. Keep the good screen time for home. Well, that’s the plan. But since the start of the month he been checking the phone every half hour and when he’s not coding or reading work emails or at a meeting he’s hunched over his phone or thinking about tweets and posts. He even dreams Instagram dreams.
This evening he comes home, showers, and slumps onto a lounge chair, phone in hand. Here’s a photo of Chava, Auckland’s newly-elected youngest ever councillor, outside one of the flagship pharmacies piloting a safe drug zero-waste scheme, smiling as she holds a carton of almost expired paracetamol. Why let this drug go to waste because the companies made surplus drugs after the last pandemic wave? The new scheme will collect surplus drugs and donated food as part of the ongoing rebuild project.